Whether it is a owner, rescue, trainer, family member, veterinarian, boarding kennel, or neighbor there is something in addition to the responsibility to our dogs that is our primary responsibility. That responsibility is to ensure the safety of other living things around us as well as our canine companions. If we can not do that, there are some tough choices that need to be made. They are not fun, they are not cool, and most of all they are not easy. Sometimes they are the right thing to do. Sometimes they need to be done because the canine owner has not met the dogs needs responsibility, and is not going to in the future.
Many times not all puppies in a litter are able to or do survive due to no one's fault. It's the breeders responsibility to monitor this, and make some very painful decisions. When puppies are raised by a responsible breeder, a part of that breeder's heart is transferred over with the ownership of that puppy.
RESCUES: A responsible rescue will try to find out if there is a way to keep that dog in it's home. For instance, is it just the stress of a situation OR the owner just at a loss about what to do? After that, if the breeder is known, it's the rescues responsibility to suggest to the owner that they need to contact the breeder initially or the rescue allowed to contact the breeder themselves.
Once all that is sorted out, the next thing most rescues consider is the ability to take in and re home this dog. Depending on funding and paid staff, the success rate of this can vary widely. Rescues do what they can do to deal with difficult situations. Sometimes they may need to euthanize the dog themselves due to severe illness or behavioral issues. Rescues generally have resources available for many issues that require veterinary assistance, but there are times that a dog is beyond any kind of help for pain, and therefore it's a kindness to let them go unto an existence without pain.
Sometimes a rescue may know that they can not find a home for the dog (due to serious behavioral issues) OR they do not feel confident that there won't be an injury given the potential owner pool that they have to deal with. Rescues have these painful decisions to deal with as well. However, they do have a responsibility to the public to keep everyone safe.
That being said, rescues have the responsibility to match up (as well as possible) human and canine team combinations. Sometimes due to lack of funds and paid staff, this ends up simply being a purchase transaction for dogs that have passed temperament tests, so that less of a matching and application process is done.
A dog that goes onto a home to bite family members or others, and the problem can't be solved, does not have good prospects for the future. A responsible rescue will not again pass this dog on, unless they have the solution or better home for the dog in the future. Most are not willing to risk the liability, and I can't blame them. It's not only liability to the outside world, but to their shelter staff as well. Many of the rescue members will be unpaid volunteers.
A rescue organization's first responsibility is to the living things around them as well as dogs needing homes.
ADULT OWNERS: New owners of dogs or puppies are responsible to meet their needs immediately, and this includes training needs. Too many people do not train, this later causes an episode that they are not happy with. Many owners only want to train to treat the symptom AFTER something or someone has been injured. As a trainer, this is the common training scenario I hear over and over again. They didn't need to train before because their dog was as good as gold, but then their dog suddenly and without warning bit the cat that raced across the yard.
Adult owners of dogs are responsible first and foremost for the safety of every living thing around them. If they are in a period of time where this is being worked on but not yet controlled, then safety measures and equipment needs to be used correctly (along with supervision and common sense) to ensure that everyone is safe.
Years ago, I heard of a lab that used to run in the mornings with all the other dogs on the beach. His owner did no training. One day at home, a jogger jogged by who had never been on their street before or near their yard. The dog raced after and bit the jogger (could have been prey or defense drive), and the owners really had no clue that something like this could have been prevented with training and responsibility. Stuff happens sometimes, sure, and it's hard to control every little thing in life. However, the one main thing that was missing was any kind of language between dog and owner which might have said "hey, no, come back here" with a simple "COME!!!". That is a simple and well trained come. Unfortunately, the lab was put to sleep as a dangerous dog (making me think this was not the only incident).
Even more horrifying is that this jogger was bitten. How horrible for him!! These things can be very much improved upon in decreased numbers by owners training their dogs. The dogs do not know, have not been shown, and have no way of being communicated with when the "unknown event" occurs. The jogger also does not deserve to be bitten. Most likely, he will not be thinking kindly of the next dog.
MINOR OWNERS: Children can not be held responsible for adult responsibilities. However, adult owners can teach their children proper ways of interacting with their dog, approved ways of interacting with their dogs, and let them know before hand the inappropriate ways of interacting with dogs. Adult owners are first and foremost responsible for their children's (and any other child's) safety.
FAMILY MEMBERS OUTSIDE IMMEDIATE: The adult owners of canines need to be responsible for the safety of family members. Some family members will listen to directions like "just don't let yourself into my home without knocking" or "don't encourage the dog to jump". If a family member can't or won't comply with that, it's the adult owner's responsibility to not endanger their canine by putting them in that position.
DOG TRAINERS: My profession is first and foremost responsible for safety. I often take on behaviorally challenged dogs, but really try to screen out those owners who will not follow directions OR have too much of a learning curve vs their dog's specific problem (if aggression based, of course). To those owners that I can not help, I do give out as much information as I can. I can't make them be responsible however, or want to do the work. That's the most frustrating thing being a dog trainer.
During the training sessions, it's my responsibility to break everything down and teach it in an understandable manner. The dog trainer will also be looking for any undiscovered issues that may be brimming below the surface, and giving their take on the situation and suggestions for resolution.
After training happens, it's the trainers responsibility to document how it went, and also communicate to the owners how they did, and if there remain any issues at hand. The trainer will frequently have also bonded with the dog, but it's our responsibility to send everyone home with safety in mind first and foremost.
VETERINARIANS: Veterinarians are responsible for medical issues regarding your dog, and doing the best in their ability to recommend steps that will keep your dog healthy and happy. Behaviorally, they are relied on to uncover any physical components of behavioral issues.
If you ever have a veterinarian that will not run tests after your dog has shown a departure from their regular personality, it's time to find a new vet. Sometimes vets are expediting their decision because they know most people won't put the work into their dog after a behavior is on it's way to being a "learned behavior". However, the person really responsible for making THAT decision is the owner of the dog, and the veterinarian should be responsible for discussing things that can affect behavior and the options ONLY. The human owner is the only one who knows what their capability and responsibility level will be.
Just some things to think of in the exchange of responsibility for our canine companions. I wish I could go more into detail that this article deserves today.
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